Saffron – just the name brings something exotic to mind. This is one of the most expensive spices and is popularly used in several desserts in Indian cuisine. Being very expensive, it is generally reserved for special occasions. Using this in a pasta sauce was a completely novel idea for me.
As I searched the web, I found that there really were several recipes of this kind of sauce. Rachael Ray used saffron with lotsa butter and parsley and mint and orange, but I was short on those ingredients. All I had was some tomato sauce and then the search for tomato+saffron yielded one even by the great Emeril himself. Bam!
To begin at the beginning, this whole thing started because I was presented with a bottle of rich saffron syrup. This was so heady and intoxicating that I immediately wanted to make something of it, something savory and other than the obvious desserts that came to mind. Pasta was the obvious vehicle, since I was craving pasta. Although all the recipes use pinches of saffron fronds, I decided to be bold and make the sauce using syrup.
Most recipes had certain elements – the usual onion, garlic, basil/spice, wine, cream, tomatoes and saffron. I made so many substitutions to this concept, that I fear I may have ended up with something totally different. I also made a much lighter version using whole milk instead of cream, and saved the cheese just for the garnish.
I used mushrooms and olives as the vegetables, and everything worked together well to give a unique flavor where you can’t really taste one particular thing.
Cavatappi is a long screw shaped pasta. You can use any ‘rigate’ or ridged pasta for this sauce. Something like penne or rigatoni will go really well with this sauce. The recipe is as follows –
Half pound penne/cavatappi
One small onion chopped
1 Tbsp garlic chopped
1 Tbsp EVOO or extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried spices such as basil/thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup vodka
1 cup whole milk
1 cup tomato puree/sauce
2 Tbsp saffron syrup such as Mapro
Or 1 big pinch or 1 tsp saffron fronds
1 packet mushrooms chopped
2 Tbsp olives sliced/chopped
Parmesan or cheese of choice to garnish
EVOO to drizzle
1) For the sauce – In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the EVOO and add the chopped garlic. Add onions and sauté until softened a bit. Take care not to burn either.
2) Add mushrooms and fry until all the water from the mushrooms evaporates
3) Add vodka, or wine if you wish and sauté a bit until absorbed
4) Add tomato puree or sauce and the milk/cream
5) Add the salt/pepper and dried herbs and simmer this sauce
6) Add the saffron syrup. If using fronds, steep them first in some hot milk and then add to the sauce
7) Simmer the sauce until all the milk/cream is absorbed and sauce thickens. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon.
8) Meanwhile, boil the pasta for about 8-10 minutes, a bit less than al dente
9) Drain the pasta and immediately add to the sauce. Stir well to combine, cover with lid on a very low flame and let the pasta steam in the sauce for 3-4 minutes. This time can be adjusted based on the actual pasta and your liking of chewy versus well cooked pasta.
10) The pasta will absorb most of the sauce and flavors pretty soon. Switch off heat and keep covered
11) While serving, spoon on plate and drizzle some olive oil and some grated parmesan or any other cheese.
This is a very rich tasting pasta with big flavor, that will make a great impromptu meal served with some salad and good bread.
I hope you enjoy this unusual sauce laden with the goodness of saffron.